The Mad Dance

Last evening I and the other women on the team leading the Ignatian Colleagues Program five-day retreat offered a prayer service titled In the Voices of Women.  It included song, scripture, readings, a litany to anonymous women, a beautiful ritual of flower offering.

As part of the service, I shared a short piece written by my now-deceased mother-in-law back in 1932, when she was 18 years old.  Even then, she was an extraordinary women in so many ways.

Someone last night said to me, “That piece you read should be published.”  The comment prompted me to share it here with you.  I do so with love, admiration, and gratitude for all Mom/Betty/Nana gave to all of us who were part of her family

Here is the story written by Elizabeth Rocky (later Drueding), on February 12, 1932:

The Mad Dance

             In a small village, once upon a time, a group of young men assembled to see who could excel in dancing.  Every family in that village had a father or a son participating in the contest; and the excitement was high.

            When the dance began, each contestant felt light-hearted and sure that he could win.  As each one watched his neighbors, however, he quickened his pace and lost some of his jaunty self-assurance in the effort to excel.

            At first, the onlookers laughed and joked, citing the abilities of one and the awkwardness of another.  Soon, however, the dancers were whirling around feverishly, until the dance was frenzied.

            The spectators, realizing that their husbands, and fathers, and sons had worked themselves up to a dangerous, uncontrollable pace, became worried.  Suppose that one should fall and be trampled on by the others!  Suppose that the dancers should whirl themselves into the midst of the onlookers!

            After some discussion, all the women ran to their houses and returned with pans and ladles.  Huddled in an excited group they caught the rhythm of the mad dance and beat it out with their pots and pans.  Gradually, they decreased the rhythm until the dancers, conscious of the outside influence, slowed and finally stopped.

            Surely the women were ingenious.  Maybe women always are.  Maybe they ought to start beating out the rhythm of world peace on their pots and pans.



What We Learn From Mary and Elizabeth

I’m at my “happy place,” the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh,, where I’m one of the directors on a directed retreat.  Today, on this feast of the Visitation, I had the privilege of offering a reflection at our afternoon Mass.

I began my reflection by talking about the graced encounter between Mary and Elizabeth recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  We take for granted that description, and don’t tend to imagine how differently it might have transpired if the enemy spirit had taken hold.

Mary had just been told by the angel that she will bear the Son of God.  Had pride arisen Mary might have thought to herself, “If Elizabeth and I are going to see each other, it ought to be she who travels to see me, not me who undertakes the arduous journey. After all, I’m the one carrying the King, and he is way more important than her baby.”

And Elizabeth, might have been filled with envy and jealousy, thinking “I’m the older one and I’m married to a priest. Why does Mary (who is betrothed to a carpenter) gets to birth the #1 child and I only gets the messenger.  Surely I’m at least as good as she is.”

There were some smiles and a couple of laughs among the retreatants at that description, but we’ve all had enough experience of human encounters marred by pride, jealousy and envy to be able to imagine the possibilities.

Instead what happens is that the young woman who has just learned that she is to bear the Christ immediately runs off to be of help to her older cousin who is with child.   And the older woman herself welcomes with joy the younger cousin who has been chosen to bear the more important of the two children.

And although we are told only that Mary remained with Elizabeth for some months, we can imagine what must have transpired between those two women during those months.   We can imagine Mary helping Elizabeth with chores….Elizabeth counseling and reassuring the younger woman…the two pregnant women working, sitting, talking, planning together.  Mary putting her hand on Elizabeth’s belly when the baby in her womb moves.  Elizabeth sharing tips on dealing with morning sickness.  The two women sharing laughs, and perhaps some tears.  Neither pride in the one nor jealousy in the other.   Just two women each lovingly giving the other what she needs.  Two women loving each other “with mutual affection,” as Paul puts today’s first Mass reading.

It is an incredibly beautiful model of graced human relationship.  And it is one worth thinking about because if we are going to be as Christ in our world, it matters how we relate to others.  With pride and superiority?  Or with humility and joy?  With envy and jealousy or with rejoicing in each other’s fortune.

I also spoke about another aspect of today’s Gospel: When Mary arrives, Elizabeth sees what is not yet visible, immediately recognizing the presence of Christ – the promise of Christ in her.  Elizabeths words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” prompt Mary’s proclamation of the Magnificat, which itself points to what is not yet present.  She speaks in present tense of things that are certainly not apparent in the world in which she lived.  “He has thrown down the rulers…he has lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry with good things.”

I referenced Leonard Cohen’s song Everybody Knows (which I call is the anti-Magnificat).  Its lyrics include lines like everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody knows the good guys lost, everybody knows the fight is fixed, everybody knows the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich., everybody knows the deal is rotten, everybody knows the plague is coming.  The refrain that keeps being repeated over and over again in between such lines is: That’s how it goes, everybody knows.

As songs go, it is a pretty accurate appraisal of how things look in our world.  The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich.  The deal is pretty rotten.  And climate change may result in something much worse than the plague.

What we as Christians say is that may be how it is, but it is not how it has to be.  Not how it will be.  One of our significant roles is to be beacons of hope in our troubled world.  We are called precisely to see what is not yet visible and to point to that, to share it with our world.

That is not always easy.  There are times when I get deeply depressed about the state of our church, our country, our world, and I’m guessing I am not alone in that.  And in those moments the enemy spirit whispers “That’s just how it goes.  Everybody knows.  Give up hoping otherwise.  Just sink into the despair.”

And in those moments, we want to remember Mary and Elizabeth.  To see with the eyes of faith what is not yet present but which we know will be.  And to take our place in working with God to make it so.

I ended my reflection by sharing  a poem by Linda Jones, titled Dare to Hope. The words are:

We dare to imagine a world where hunger has no chance to show its face.
We dare to dream of a world where wars and terror are afraid to leave their mark.
We long to believe in a world of hope unchained and lives unfettered.
We dare to work for the creation of a world where your people are free from poverty.  Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done. Amen.

That is what we do: like Mary and Elizabeth, we dare to hope. And we dare to share that hope with the world.

Visions of Mary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, a day that commemorates the appearance of Mary to three Portuguese shepherd children on this date in 1917.

Nearly 80,000 visions of Mary have been claimed since the first in about 395, about 2200 of which have received official recognition by the Catholic Church. Apparitions have been reported in every continent on the planet, by people from all walks of life and of every age, and in places ranging from cities and churches to homes, caves, and fields.

This subject of Marian apparitions is one to which many people in our modern world react with some level of embarrassment or, at least, a deep skepticism. We live in a rational world that relies on what can be demonstrated scientifically, where things like apparitions seem to fall into the category of close encounters of the bizarre kind.

But the truth is the God continually reaches out to each of us, sometimes dramatically and sometimes in simple ways. Our God is a self-communicating God who continually speaks to us.

Is it so strange or impossible to imagine that one of the vehicles God might use to communicate with us is a vision of Mary, whom he chose to be the mother of Christ? So perhaps, rather than suspicion, our stance should be one of openness to the breadth of ways God might speak to us, including the possibility of God speaking to us through Mary.

Whether you believe in apparitions or not,, the day encourages us to be open to God’s continuous desire to communicate with us.

Spring Cleaning

Yes, I said “spring” cleaning, even though here in the Twin Cities, we have had too few days that have actually felt like spring.  But I’m prompted in the subject by a piece I read this morning on the Ignatian Spirituality website by Vinita Hampton Wright, whose posts often inspire me.

Wright suggests that our spring cleaning needs to be as much about our interior life as about our physical environment.  She writes

 If we are to tend our interior world with care and wisdom, we cannot be distracted by the exterior world. We can live in large houses with lots of rooms and furniture and “stuff” and yet be free to sit still and think or pray. We can live in simpler surroundings but not feel free at all because the rooms are cluttered or dirty or both. Regardless of the size or grandeur of your dwelling place, it can nurture your inner life or frustrate it.

Her suggestion is to take some time to sit in a room where we spend a lot of our time and ask questions like:  “How does it feel? Are you distracted by piles of magazines or unfinished projects? Is it time to clean or change—or throw out—the curtains? Does the arrangement of furniture make it difficult to move freely? Does it hamper your access to good reading light or to fresh air?”

She goes on to suggest

Bring your true self to your rooms, and clear your rooms of what is not true to who you (or you and your loved ones) are.

  • What’s the best decision you’ve ever made about your physical home?

  • What one piece of advice would you offer to someone about to spring clean?

What is your spring cleaning going to look like?

St. Joseph and the Dignity of Work

St. Joseph, the human father of Jesus and husband of Mary, is honored on two days by the Catholic Church.  Today is one of those days –  the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, a memorial instituted by Pope Pius XII and dedicated to the dignity of labor and to honoring workers.

In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens, John Paul II described work as one of the central characteristics that distinguishes humans from other creatures. “Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.” Work is thus “a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”

The source of the view of work as fundamental to human existence is our creation in the image of God. Created in the image of God, human participate in the act of creation through our work.  From the standpoint of Catholic thought, all work, no matter how ordinary or mundane it seems, is an act of cooperation with God’s creative work. This might be a useful thing for us to keep in mind, both as we contemplate those aspects of our own work that may at times seem less than exhiliarating and as we encounter those working in jobs we dont’ typically value.

On this day on which we remember St. Joseph the Worker, we pray in a special way for all workers and we pray that we may develop and use the gifts God has given us to do the work to which He has called us.

It Was With Providence That I Created You

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of  St. Catherine of Siena, a mystic and the first woman to be named a doctor of the Church.

Most of what we know about the fruits of  Catherine’s prayer life comes from a work titled The Dialogue, which Catherine started writing two years before her death, and which is now hailed as a classic of Western spirituality.  The work records a series of questions she put to God and God’s responses to her.

Here is one excerpt in which God speaks to Catherine of his love.  Perhaps you might sit with the passage, hearing God speak to you personally the words God spoke to Catherine. 

It was with providence that I created you, and when I contemplated my creature in myself I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.  It pleased me to create you in my image and likeness with great providence.  I provided you with the gift of memory so that you might hold fast my benefit and be made a sharer in my own, the eternal Father’s power.  I gave you understanding so that in the wisdom of my only-begotten Son you might comprehend and know what I the eternal Father want, I who gave you graces with such burning love.  I gave you a will to love, making you a sharer in the Holy Spirit’s mercy, so that you might love what your understanding sees and knows.  All this my gentle providence did, only that you might be capable of understanding and enjoying me and rejoicing in my goodness by seeing me eternally.

Ask yourself:

What does it mean to you to know that God looks at you and falls in love with your beauty?

What does it mean to you to be created in God’s image?

 What are the unique gifts God gifted you with out of his love for you?

Mark’s Human Jesus

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist.  Mark’s Gospel is thought to be the first of the four written (he is generally thought to be one of the sources used by Matthew and Luke) and his Gospel is the shortest of the four.

Mark records very few of the spoken words of Jesus, putting the focus on Jesus’ actions: calming the storm, walking on the waves, feeding the multitudes, curing the ill and raising the dead. Perhaps because there is less emphasis on words, we find in Mark vivid descriptions, with small details not found in the other two synoptic Gospels.

On the one hand, Mark is quite clear in his emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. On the other, in the words of Fr. Joseph Mindling,

With an eye for detail not always recorded by the other gospels, Mark shows fascinating aspects of the human side of the Messiah as well: That Jesus liked to eat with his friends, that he used a litte pillow to sleep on in the boat, that he hugged little children and enjoyed being with them, that he did not always hide strong emotions, that he used mud in the performance of a miracle, that he listened carefully to the parents of a little girl who had died, and that he was fearful before he himself died. Individually, many of these observations may not catch our attention, but collectively they deepen our understanding of what it meant for the Son of God to take on our human nature and share our everyday life.

Fully divine, yes. But also fully human. And Mark’s Gospel gives us a vehicle through which to explore that humanity.